A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab
Published: February 2015
Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.
Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.
Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.
After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.
Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.
This isn’t so much a review as it is a journey of my experience with Schwab’s writing and this book in particular.
In the spring of 2014, I went to a book signing for Schwab’s YA duology. I’d read The Archived for my graduate thesis and wanted to meet her. At that event she talked about a book about “pirates, thieves, and sadist kings” that would be published in the next year or so. Then this came out, the world exploded with hype, and I avoided it like the plague—because more often than not, hyped books disappoint me. I wanted to read it away from all that. Fast forward to fall 2019 when an Instagram friend read it for the first time. She was separated from the hype, and loved it to pieces. At this point I figured it was safe…so I bought it, and like many books, it sat unread on my shelves till now.
I shouldn’t have been so worried or afraid. But at the same time, I don’t regret waiting so long to read this book. I think I can appreciate it more now, absorb and cherish it better than I could have in the middle of the hype.
Schwab infuses the magic of her world into every single carefully written word. Her language evokes the atmosphere, her words propel the narrative, the diction and syntax so purposefully crafted that I felt transported immediately in the first chapter. Her characters are so well-developed in the way she shows their actions and movements and interactions with others, there wasn’t a single moment of telling or explanation for behavior or history. The world/s is/are so lush and vibrant and beautiful—even in the Grey and White—and yet she managed to craft them with little description. I’m in awe. She evoked all the senses in her writing and not once did I feel bogged down by the narrative, or annoyed with the dialogue, or frustrated with the pacing. It was all so perfectly, exquisitely written.
A wholly unique experience. I loved this with every fiber of my being.
I’m excited to learn more about Kell and Lila on this next adventure in the Shades of Magic trilogy. This is one of a kind!